I was today years old when I learned that the NBA logo – that ubiquitous white silhouetted player against the red and black background that I’ve been looking at since I was born – is modeled after Jerry West, former Los Angeles Lakers player and coach, and current NBA executive. This I learned because there’s a small-but-loud movement to change the 52-year-old logo to the likeness of the late Kobe Bryant.
The call for the change either originated from or got louder due to Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving promoting the idea on an Instagram post, with the phrase: “BLACK KINGS BUILT THE LEAGUE.” As of Tuesday, Irving’s post has received more than 1.2 million likes and support from countless fellow NBA players and other celebrities.
It seems like a novel idea on its face: Bryant was objectively one of the NBA’s best overall players before his retirement in 2016, and the Jan. 26, 2020 helicopter accident that killed him and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna was a core-rocking Black culture event that kicked off a year which was only just getting started with the B.S. Bryant was beloved as an athlete and a #GirlDad, and his death still feels fresh to many of us. Making Bryant’s image into the NBA logo seems like a no-brainer, right…?
Hardly. Any one player being made into the logo of the entire league is controversy-courting by nature; having it someone with as complicated a history as Bryant only adds on layers of controversy.
First, there’s the issue of Bryant as a player: While he still holds five championship rings and a number of NBA records – including most points, free throws and turnovers for any guard in NBA history and the oldest player to hit more than 60 points in a single game – he also had a reputation for being aggressive or even allegedly nasty with his teammates. As was the case with Michael Jordan before him, where you sit on the necessity of such behavior to achieve greatness is entirely subjective.
There’s also the issue of all the players who paved the way for Bryant: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bill Russell. Julius Erving. These men achieved greatness before Bryant was born, and several still do work in the name of Black advancement. In discussing his belief that Bryant shouldn’t be incorporated into the logo, New York Knicks legend Walt Frazier stated that it should never be just one player in the logo. “First of all, if you just use one guy you’re embarrassing a lot of other guys,” he said.
He has a point, but that’s not exactly on brand for a league that has hierarchized its players for decades. That LeBron James is essentially the contemporary face of the league might be “embarrassing” to other players, but that’s the generally accepted by-product of greatness in the NBA.
Of course, there’s also the more serious blight of Bryant’s legacy to consider: his 2003 rape charge that, despite being dropped, dogged him until his death and was resurrected as a talking point when he died. (His widow, Vanessa Bryant, seems ready and armed with the clapback over anyone besmirching his legacy with assault talk). Perception of innocence or guilt aside, there’s certainly a valid argument to be made for a multi-billion-dollar company avoiding Bryant as a visual icon for that reason alone.
The issue is clearly complicated and any changes to the logo, Bryant or not, would likely be divisive. There’s always the simplest solution: leave something that isn’t broken alone, lest you wind up with a trash rebranding that wasn’t at all necessary (I’m looking at you, Gap.) To his credit, West is probably as dyed-in-the-wool NBA as any living person (or white man) can be considering he’s been collecting checks from the league since “whites only” water fountains were a thing, but the 82-year-old has said more than once that he wishes he wasn’t reduced to “The Logo.”
But let’s keep it 100: the NBA is entirely too big and mainstream to ever have to worry about suffering from a controversial rebrand – it could change its logo into a parakeet with a Vienna sausage in its beak and folks would still tune in to see Steph Curry drop 3-pointers. Whether or not it decides to go with Kobe and the logo, the NBA will be just fine.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at wafflecolored.com.